Today’s workplace is evolving quickly. Baby boomers are retiring while Gen Z is just entering the workforce. And technology is rapidly changing where people work and how they communicate and collaborate.

To keep up, employers increasingly need skilled professionals who can help them meet the diverse needs of a multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce. Organizations need leaders who can build and maintain efficient and effective processes to help them stay competitive.

The professionals with the knowledge and skill to address these complex challenges often have a background in industrial-organizational psychology.  

In this guide, we offer a comprehensive overview of what a career in industrial-organizational psychology might look like. You’ll also find helpful tips on how to build a successful career in this dynamic field.

What is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology focuses on studying and improving human behaviors within teams, organizations, and the workplace.

“The specialty of industrial-organizational psychology addresses issues of recruitment, selection and placement, training and development, performance measurement, workplace motivation and reward systems, quality of work life, structure of work and human factors, organizational development and consumer behavior,” according to the APA. 

Industrial-organizational psychologists are not clinicians. They do not work with individuals to resolve mental health or social problems. 

Instead, I/O psychologists are business-focused. Their job—broadly speaking—is to help employees and organizations create sustainable practices to improve the workplace for employees and to build efficient processes to improve productivity and profitability. 

Why Choose a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Industrial-organizational psychology is a dynamic field that may surprise you with its range of variety and opportunity. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you might want to consider a career in this exciting area.

You get to help people

Industrial-organizational psychologists help make workplaces as safe, productive, and satisfying as possible. As an I/O psychologist, you might help employees learn to do their jobs better, negotiate better salaries and working conditions, create more inclusive work environments, or resolve workplace conflicts. 

You can find a job that fits the skills and tasks you enjoy

As an I/O psychologist, you might do research and data analysis. You might develop and deliver employee training and education programs. You might focus on corporate efficiency and safety. You might focus on inclusion and diversity in the workforce. You might develop better hiring and retention policies. Your path will depend on your unique personality and skill set.

You can work in nearly any industry

Here are just a few of the many places where industrial-organizational psychologists might find work:

  • Labor unions
  • Elementary and high schools
  • State and national government agencies
  • Manufacturing companies
  • Colleges and universities
  • Hospitals and other healthcare facilities
  • Marketing and advertising firms
  • Any company, small or large, with an HR department

The Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology website offers an interactive tool to help you envision the many different ways in which a career in industrial-organizational psychology might unfold. 

You can earn an excellent salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for an industrial-organizational psychologist is $96,270. While starting salaries might begin around $60,000 per year, they can go as high as $190,000 per year, or perhaps even higher.

Your salary and lifetime earning potential will depend heavily on your career path, including your location, your industry, the type of work you do, your level of education, and years of experience. 

It can also depend on whether you choose work as an internal team member or as an external consultant and whether you choose to work as an individual contributor or move into management. 

What Does a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Look Like? 

A quick search for “industrial-organizational psychologist” on job-posting sites won’t yield many results. 

Very few I/O psychology positions use that title. In fact, in most states, using the word “psychologist” in your job title requires board certification and licensure, and is more applicable to clinical positions.

Common job titles for industrial-organizational psychologists include: 

  • Human Resources Manager
  • Staffing and Recruiting Manager
  • Behavioral Analyst
  • Workforce Analyst
  • Team Development Trainer or Manager
  • Executive Coach
  • Project Manager
  • Organizational Effectiveness Consultant
  • Policy Officer
  • Market Analyst or Researcher

When looking for industrial-organizational psychology jobs, try not to focus on specific titles. Instead, focus your search on education, core skills, industries of interest, and job roles. And be sure to stay flexible, creative, and open-minded. Your search might take you in some unexpected directions.

What Do You Need to Start—or Advance—a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology? 

With such flexible and wide-ranging options, the necessary personality traits, skills, and educational backgrounds required to build an industrial-organizational psychology career are also quite diverse. Here are a few of the things you should consider.

Educational Requirements for I/O Psychology

Regardless of job title or industry, most positions in industrial-organizational psychology require a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology. You’ll need a master’s degree and several years of directly relevant experience to move into a senior or management position, or to work as a consultant. Research-oriented jobs, teaching at a university, and some other positions may require a doctoral degree (PhD).

Not sure whether you should pursue a master’s or a doctoral degree? That will depend on how much time and money you wish to invest in your education. 

It may also depend on the type of job you are interested in. Professionals with a master’s degree lean toward hands-on work, collaborating with employers and employees to find solutions for real-life problems. Jobs that require PhDs tend to focus on data analysis and statistics. You might pursue this path if you envision yourself doing research or working in a university setting.

Skills You Need for a Career in I/O Psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology involves a unique mix of both hard and soft skills. 

Two of the most important hard skills revolve around research and analysis. For example, you may be required to analyze data, systems, or operations. And you’ll be called upon to use both research and analysis to facilitate complex problem-solving.

Critical soft skills include excellent interpersonal and organizational skills, written and verbal communication skills, active listening, conflict management, and the ability to work in and lead teams. 

You can learn more about the types of skills you need in an I/O psychology career path in our blog 10 Skills You Need to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.

Personal Qualities that are Important for a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

While you might have all the right skills for a career in industrial-organizational psychology, some personality traits may lend themselves better to this career choice. For example, you should: 

  • Be interested in human behavior, especially in team settings
  • Have an analytic mindset
  • Be willing to confront—and solve—complex problems 
  • Feel comfortable applying scientific methodologies
  • Be conscientious and trustworthy
  • Be willing to work closely with people

While by no means an exhaustive list, this gives you a basic understanding of the types of traits that you will likely find useful and even necessary in an I/O psychology career. 

Potential Career Pathways into I/O Psychology

There’s no one way to get started in industrial-organizational psychology. And it’s never too late to begin a transition into the field.

Many industrial-organizational psychologists start with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or industrial-organizational psychology. Recognizing the growing need for these skilled professionals, many colleges and universities have begun to couple bachelor’s and master’s degrees into a single, fast-tracked educational path.

However, bachelor’s degrees in business, business administration, human resources, and even teaching can also lay the educational foundation for a successful transition into I/O psychology.

And whatever your undergraduate degree, pursuing an advanced degree in industrial-organizational psychology is a great way to make a career change from an entry-level position. 

Many people who move into I/O psychology do so from positions in human resources, business administration, or business analysis. However, social workers, teachers and childcare providers, marketing and advertising professionals, career counselors, and diversity, inclusion, and equity specialists—to name a few—all have unique skills that are applicable to a career in industrial-organizational psychology. 

If you are looking for a great way to advance your career or to move into an exciting field with flexibility and serious growth potential, a career in industrial-organizational psychology might be right for you. Advancing your education with a part-time, online master’s degree in I/O psychology is an excellent first step on your unique career path.